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Talking Business: Retailers must know consumers’ rights

The biggest shake-up of consumer law in a generation may have grave implications for UK fashion retailers that fail to adhere to the changes.

The act, which largely came into force on October 1, emphasises fairness and transparency in business-to-consumer contracts for the supply of goods, digital content and services. It also prohibits the use of legal jargon to disguise consumers’ legal rights. 

Overseas businesses engaging directly with UK consumers may also have to comply with the act, even if non-UK law is selected to govern the contract. 

The existing quality standards applying to the supply of tangible goods and services have been harmonised under the act.  A key new standard is that if goods are purchased on the basis of a model seen by a consumer, the goods purchased must match that model.  New quality standards that apply specifically to contracts for the delivery of “paid-for” digital content have also been introduced.   

A consumer now has a right to reject goods that fail to meet any of the applicable quality standards within a 30-day period. Previously, a consumer could reject goods within a “reasonable period.” 

“Tiered” remedies have been introduced for a fashion retailer’s failure to comply with the relevant quality standards.  For example, if a dress has been purchased which has a tear in it, a consumer may ask for a repair or a replacement. A fashion retailer now has one opportunity to provide either. 

The consumer will then have a right to seek a price reduction or to reject the dress and receive a refund.  If the goods are rejected, new conditions apply to a retailer’s ability to make deductions for use. Other tiered remedies are available for services and digital content. 

Any information that is communicated by a trader to a consumer about the main characteristics of the goods, digital content or services (including via its advertising and marketing campaigns) may become an implied term of the contract between the trader and the consumer. 

Finally, any attempts to restrict or exclude liability for a breach of the quality standards is strictly prohibited, so traders should review their standard terms and conditions carefully. 

Justin Edgar is a senior associate at London law firm Harbottle & Lewis.

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